Student Hit Up for Fees After ‘Warcraft’ Debacle

     (CN) – An unemployed junior-college student who claimed to be the voice of baby murloc characters in the popular “World of Warcraft” video game owes $28,700 in attorneys’ fees, a federal judge ruled.
     Amanda Lewis sued Activision Blizzard and Blizzard Entertainment in 2012 for copyright infringement and misappropriation of her voice.
     Lewis said she developed a voice and a song for the so-called baby murlocs, which she described as a friendly “type of aquatic humanoid creature common,” while working as a “World of Warcraft” game master in Blizzard customer support in 2005.
     Game masters assist players with “in-game issues, such as abusive language or players becoming ‘stuck,’ or unable to move, in the game,” Lewis said.
     Activision allegedly recorded Lewis and used her work, but paid her usual hourly rate for two recording sessions. She was discharged in 2006.
     Lewis said the life she brought to baby murlocs helped make the character “the de facto mascot of the billion-dollar enterprise.”
     Blizzard has allegedly handed out baby murloc merchandise at BlizzCon and other “World of Warcraft”-related events, including arena tournaments, since December 2005. Plush versions of the virtual pets were meanwhile available through its online store, Lewis added.
     Though Lewis claimed that Blizzard did not employ her to produce creative content, that she did not receive additional compensation for her creative work and that she did not assign any copyright rights to Blizzard, the gaming company said her action failed under the two-year statute of limitations in California and were otherwise pre-empted by the Copyright Act.
     U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken dismissed the state-law claims for both reasons back in 2012 and granted Blizzard summary judgment on the federal claim a year later.
     The judge said Thursday that Blizzard’s attorneys at Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp are eligible to recover fees from Lewis, finding that her claims were “objectively unreasonable and bordered on frivolous.”
     “Blizzard repeatedly warned Lewis that she might have to pay attorneys’ fees; it even offered, after Lewis acknowledged in her deposition that her job description expressly included the creation of game content, to forego any claim to attorneys’ fees if she would dismiss her suit,” Wilken wrote. “In light of the objective unreasonableness of Lewis’s claim, her equally unreasonable settlement demand and continued refusal of Blizzard’s settlement offers are evidence of an improper motive.”
     Lewis initially sought an injunction and disgorgement for the alleged infringement .
     Blizzard said it “reasonably expended” $153,646.50 in attorneys’ fees related to Lewis’ federal copyright claim; in addition to $13,853 to dismiss her state-law right-of-publicity claim.
     Noting that the an unemployed junior college student who sued it has less than $10,000 in assets, however, Wilken said Lewis is only liable for $15,000 in total fees for the copyright claim.
     Balking at Blizzard’s claims for reimbursement of printing and delivery services, as well as miscellaneous expenses, including the alleged purchase of its own games, plush toy and game cards, Wilken reduced that amount by $2,297.29.
     The declaration by lead attorney Marc Mayer “does not explain why Blizzard was required to purchase its own products for purposes of this litigation,” Wilken wrote.
     Wilken awarded Blizzard $28,757.00 in total fees: $13,757 for prevailing on Lewis’ publicity claim; $15,000 on her copyright claim; and $1,901.30 in non-taxable costs.

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